Dance Harlequin, Dance
Marilyn Kinsella, 1994
When I was a kid I really had a hard time making friends. Perhaps, I tried a little too hard; perhaps, I was off in my own little world; perhaps, I was just a little too much of a clown - whatever, I had a hard time making friends. As early as the second grade, I often felt alone and excluded. But that year I thought I knew the key to finding friendship.
As Christmas approached that year all the girls in my second grade class were talking about a doll - a dancing doll. Somebody brought the Sears Catalog to school, and there it was on page 106. It was decided that everybody who got this doll could belong to the Dancing Doll Club. This cloth doll was life-sized. It had a plastic face surrounded by a two braids made of yellow yarn. She had a red and white checkered bonnet on her head which matched her red and white checkered dress. What made her so different from any other doll we had known was that at the ends of her arms and legs were black straps that you could slip your hands and feet into. Then you could dance. Oh, I loved to dance. And I really wanted to belong to that club. All I needed was that doll, and I could belong.
So I started my campaign early - dropping little hints to my mother that I was not interested in baby dolls any longer. I wanted a big-girl doll - I wanted the dancing doll. I was getting to the age where I wasn't quite so sure about Santa Claus - but, just to be on the safe side, I carefully cut out the picture on page 106 of the Sears and Roebuck and stuffed it in my pocket for my annual visit to see Santa.
Going to see Santa was a real treat. My mom and I caught the bus at the Edgemont Station to go to St. Louis. As we walked to Famous Barr, we always paused at the store windows to see the latest Christmas displays. Then we went to the 8th floor. To get to Santa we walked through a real Winter Wonderland. It was so magical - colored lights, giant toys, and dolls that skated across ponds. This year my mom and I waited patiently for the elf to escort me to see the jolly old man. When my time arrived, he looked at me and asked the age old question...
"Have you been a good little girl this year?"
"Oh, yeah," I replied. "I have been soooo good."
"I'm always happy to hear that. Now tell me, is there anything special you want this year?" I was ready for that question. I reached inside my pocket and took out page 106 of the Sears and Roebuck catalog. "There," I pointed. I want this dancing doll."
"Well, I guess old Santa will see what he can do."
Having laid the groundwork for my receiving the doll, I now began the long and arduous task of being "good" till Christmas. No easy task for a kid like me.
The days slowly marched on. But at night, I had dreams of me and the other girls in my class dancing around a big ballroom; a center chandelier casting its shards of light in every direction as the band played on. My doll and I would very humbly accept the crown for being the most graceful and beautiful couple on the dance floor. The other girls would make a full curtsy before us as the rest of the dancers cheered on.
Finally, Christmas Eve arrived. In my family we always opened our gifts on Christmas Eve. My brothers, Billy and Chris, and my new baby sister, Melissa, were waiting upstairs for the ringing of the sleigh bells. It was our all-clear-Santa-is-gone-now sign. At any other time of the year my two brothers would have nothing to do with me. They avoided me like the plague. But suddenly as the 24th of December rolled around, I was chaperoned around like the princess I knew I was. This year, Chris even tried to occupy my time by playing a game of Candyland with me. This was odd, because Chris was 7 years older than I and he thought Candyland was for babies. But, he was willing do anything to get me calmed down. I couldn't concentrate on peppermint sticks or candy-topped mountains. All I could think about was the doll I wanted for Christmas.
Finally, we heard the distant jingle of the sleigh bells. Candyland pieces went flying as I beat everyone to the steps. We rushed through the house until we came to the front parlor. The tree looked beautiful. Dad put it up the night before. But it wasn't the tree I was interested in. It was the presents. My parents...I mean Santa...did not wrap all our gifts. Most of them were displayed under the tree with name tags.
Sure I saw my name on a couple of things. There was a Chutes and Ladder game, a plastic tea set, and an ironing board and iron, but, excuse me, where was my doll? It wasn't like the others didn't get what they asked for. Melissa got her Betsy Wetsy, Chris got his walkie-talkies, Billy got his chemistry set. So where was my doll?
I felt like crying. I felt like that bubble light on the tree. Everything was bubbling and churning. And, and... I thought I was going to explode! Then my Mom said, "Marilyn, go close that door. There is a draft in here."
So, I went over to the door, grabbed the side of it, and swung it shut. I can still hear my loud, blood-curdling scream. It's probably still echoing through the rafters of that old house. For behind the door was the most frightening lump of body parts that I had ever encountered. However, everyone else in the room thought this to be a colossal joke and began to laugh hysterically. What was so funny? Then I looked at the nametag on the "thing" again and saw why they were laughing. It was because it was my doll. But it wasn't anything like the doll on page 106 of the Sears and Roebuck catalog. This doll was downright spooky!
This doll was all back and white. What you might call a Harlequin. It had a soft cloth head made of black material and back and white diamond shapes on its body suit. It wore a stiff, scratchy tutu around its middle. But, the thing that scared me the most was the black mask across her face.
Was this some kind of joke? This was not what I asked for. This was not what I wanted. I didn't even want to touch it. "Go ahead," coaxed my mom, "pick it up."
"No, it's ugly," I stubbornly replied. My voice must have glitched, because I was trying hard not to cry. My brothers picked up on that right away.
"Whatza matter? Scared of little dolly? Oooh!"
That did it. I marched right over and picked her up. I would touch her all right. But I wouldn't like it!
But I did like it. I liked it very much. It wasn't very long after Christmas that I discovered that she was a perfect dancer. I mean she always let me lead, and she liked the same music I did. I called her Millicent the Magnificent.
She soon became the favorite of all my dolls. I would put a 45-record on my little record player and we would dance around the room making dramatic twists, dips and turns.
After Christmas my friends came over to play. They all brought their dancing dolls. But they were kind of boring. I mean, they all looked the same. Same red and white checked dress, same yellow hair, same pretty face. My doll was unique. No one had a doll like mine. I was really proud of her.
Still, it bothered me that I couldn't see her face. So one day I got some scissors and carefully cut the masked off. Under the mask was the face of a most beautiful doll. She had bright blue eyes that seemed to thank me for being her friend.
I realized then that Santa must have known something I didn't. For there have been many times in my life when I felt like that doll - being a little too much of a character to make friends very easily. But, when someone did take the time to get to know me, and pulled back that clown's mask that I wore, they were always pleasantly surprised to find a friend...someone unique, someone to dance with.
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